Last night I led the evening circle for PW at the church where I am interning. It was fun to exercise those teaching muscles again- digging into the content, finding the connections to previous lessons and current events, and dragging people toward some more distant connections that my apparently unique brain makes.
In fact, that was one of the funny moments last night, as one of the women I truly enjoy looked at me and said, “That was a great lesson. I love the way you find things that seem like they are out in left field but then they make sense.” I’m claiming that as a compliment. It also helps make sense of why I get some quizzical looks sometimes…
I focused on the importance of holding in tension our personal relationship with God through Christ and the relationship that we have with God as part of a community. We talked about what it might look like to be in a community that did that well- a community that took seriously the commandments to be in right relationship with God AND with our neighbors.
I think it looks like the description in Acts of the first batch of believers gathered after Peter’s Pentecost sermon. I think it looks like the antithesis of what we Americans understand as our mythos- the Lone Ranger, the Overcomer, the One who pulls herself up by her own bootstraps, the pioneers who peeled off the wagon trains one-by-one to hack out an existence of self-reliance. Our rugged individualism feeds so well into the personal salvation model of Christianity that we really do have a hard time seeing our lives in a corporate faith.
Writ large, we see ourselves as separate from the rest of the world, and for much of our history as dominating over most of the world. We have a hard time really buying into connectional denominations (it’s our church and “them” as if we weren’t part of the presbytery/synod/general assembly), much less a church that is one, holy and apostolic. The communion of saints makes for much better symbolism than lived ecclesiology.
I say this as one who is only coming to grips with her own tendency toward that singular pronoun faith over a plural. But when one of the ladies last night asked if you had to have both relationships in place (the vertical and the horizontal) – it sent me to preaching and just this side of meddling.
We are a reflection of a triune God- of whom it is said that you cannot see one person without seeing all three. We are created in that image, not in the image of a loner. We are meant to bring our unique gifts together to create a whole. We are meant to share those things that God provides, so that no one does without. We are meant to gather together, bringing the insights and revelations into a rich worship that reflects our whole body. We are meant to raise one another’s children, shore up one another’s faith, bury one another’s loved ones and bear one another’s burdens. We just can’t do any of that in isolation from one another. Nor can we do it for long in isolation from God.
That’s why Jesus came to heal and to forgive in God’s name. Not only so the woman’s bleeding would stop and the blind would see and the lepers’ skin would be clean, but also so that they might all be reconciled back into the communities that had pushed them out to the margins. And to reconcile them with the God who loved them.
We are called to do the same. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly, love, teach, baptize.
And in this ridiculously complex world of interconnected economies and farm subsidies and alliances and treaties, we are called to be aware of what we have relative to our sisters and brothers across town and across oceans. We are called to join hands with organizations and individuals who have found ways to bring clean water, sustainable farming, microloans, and the good news of God’s grace to those who are famished.